Summer Curiosities

IMG_4999I used to love the Fall: the reddening of the leaves, the crisp air, the blue bird skies but now it’s the summer that tugs at my heart.  I love the slow-down, the indulgence, and the warm weather but more than anything I love the break from routine.  Most people look at me like I am clueless, an amateur, when I say that my kids take a break from all organized activity in the summer and yes, that includes camp.

It’s a conscious choice- a more mindful one.  Before we became parents we would dream about our future family.  We never discussed what to name our babies (that could explain why we found it so stressful), how cute they’d be (given!), or what we thought about attachment parenting, but we did talk about the big picture.  And by big picture, I mean huge.  What sort of foundation would we lay?  What are the most important values we want to instil?  What memories of our own childhood do we hope to transfer to our own children?

A seed that grew from those early conversations was meaningful together time.  Admittedly, in the early years of parenting survival was key, and escaping for alone time topped my list of priorities.   Now, just like everyone said that it would, things have changed again – in what seems a blink of an eye.

No more diapers or strollers or sleepless nights.  No naps or a constant stream of illnesses.

We’ve crossed a bridge and I find myself on the other side, somewhat weary, a little bruised; simply amazed we made it through.  Now it’s time to put into action our plan for our family.

There are downsides to being a stay-at-home mom but there are a lot of incredible perks too.  It’s taken a long time for me not to feel guilty about enjoying them.

And so this summer, I did just that.  I made a dream become a reality.  I crossed off two weeks this summer, packed-up the boys and rented a house far, far, away from our everyday life.

These two weeks have been void of anything overly familiar (except whining and bickering), very limited screen time, and heavy on the family time.  What I have learned is without the constraints or pressures of our lives, our family unit grows stronger.  We challenge each other to try new things and spend time really talking and listening.  Most of all we each feel more vulnerable without the trappings of home and we only have each other to lean on.

I see my boys’ personalities developing.  I see their strengths and admit to myself their weaknesses.  I see them become more pack-like: defensive and protective while playfully mauling each other like lion cubs.

I have slowed down and allowed myself to indulge their curiosities.  How do seashells get their colouring?  Where does sea-glass come from?  Why do some fish swim in schools while others glide along the reef independently?

I hope to increase the time we spend on summer retreat over the years to the full two months.  I may be unrealistic.  It may be a harebrained plan.

But I have made it across one bridge and I see another on the horizon and experience has taught me that objects are closer than they appear.


My Dreamy (And Not So Dreamy) Vacation With Children

090I’ve travelled a lot, to many countries on different continents, often alone, sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes for many months.  I’ve also  been on several trips for extended periods in and around Malaysia, where I was born.

I went for the usual reasons:  I was curious; I wanted to expand my understanding of the world and my place in it; I wanted to test my abilities and limits.  It worked, I think, as well as it could.  One key discovery while away:  a full schedule with lots of sites and stops brings me down.  I travel better with depth, not breadth; as with so many other things in my life, less became more.  I began to take trips to fewer places for longer periods of time.  Slowly I discovered that, as fascinating as a locale may be, getting to know people living in those places was more interesting to me.  What I most want, wherever I am, is to find a friend and be invited over to tea.

I know there is still so much to see and learn, but lately my taste for travel has tapered off.  I find myself staying where I am more, and as my adventures in sustainability focus on local living, I am increasingly interested and invested in being at home.

Which is complicated because I am an immigrant, and home for me will always be found in Malaysia which is almost precisely halfway around the world.  Most of my relatives are still there, and they welcome us so completely when we return that it feels as if we haven’t left.  They remain the biggest imperfection of our otherwise perfectly acceptable transition to Canada.

My perfect dream travel with my children has a direct and easy answer:  I would take them to Malaysia and we would live there, with or close by my relatives.   We would visit family, close and extended, and smile and nod politely to the ones we can’t speak to (I have tried unsuccessfully with my mother to teach my children the Chinese dialect we speak, and for which there are no schools).  We’d go to the hawker stalls for fried snacks, spicy dinners, and icy desserts.

We’d follow my cousin on her jungle treks and go swimming off the islands that the locals and visitors alike visit during their holidays.  We’d visit the steaming cities, crowded with stores and people and slithering highways.  We’d travel to the rural areas, where people live in houses on stilts to stay dry during the rainy season and cool during the rest of the year.  We’d notice how much less they use and need to live their lives, doing the things we do but differently, and why that is.  We’d shadow my aunt in her kitchen, observe while she goes marketing, in hopes of unraveling and perhaps recording the secrets of her catering success and superb culinary reputation.  We’d be held in her arms while we stayed for tea.

The thing about this dream vacation – and there is no other one I want nearly as much for my children – the thing that makes it not so dreamy is that it’s a vacation.  No matter how long it is, it will end.  This doesn’t matter so much when a vacation is for fun, but when it’s for family, it’s really not very good.  I think my kids would be fine and of course the hope is that they’d finish a trip like this with an expanded sense of who they are, and it would all be worth it.  But for me coming home also means leaving home, and I’ve never quite gotten used to it.